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Forecast: Hospitalizations could stay above 400 through Thanksgiving, as infection surge begins to slow

PMG FILE PHOTO - A new forecast points to an expected drop in COVID-19 cases by mid-winter.Oregon's rebound from the delta variant spike in COVID-19 has slowed, with hospitalizations remaining high through February, a new state forecast reported Thursday, Nov. 11.

The number of people in Oregon hospitalized with COVID-19 will stay above 400 statewide through Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's, according to the forecast from Oregon Health & Science University.

ocbDr. Peter Graven, director of the OHSU Office of Advanced Analytics, said due to the availability of vaccines, Oregon won't experience the kind of surge in infections that swept the state last winter. "At this time a year ago, we were going straight up," Graven said.

The Oregon Health Authority reported Wednesday that 67% of all Oregonians — including children — have been vaccinated. Among adults, 72% are vaccinated. The health authority reports that only Gilliam, Grant, Malheur and Lake counties have less than half of adults vaccinated. Seven counties have vaccinated more than two-thirds of all residents, including children: Lincoln, Multnomah, Benton, Hood River, Washington, Deschutes and Lane counties.

OHSU forecasts that hospitalizations will dip under 200 per day by the beginning of February. That is two months longer than OHSU forecast last month and a month longer than forecast just last week.

The Oregon Health Authority reported Wednesday, Nov. 10, that 509 Oregonians remained hospitalized with COVID-19. That's less than half the number at the peak of the latest spike, when 1,178 were hospitalized on Sept. 1. The agency did not release updated statistics on Nov. 11 because of Veterans Day.

Flu season not typical

The virus continues to be the major reason for patients to be in intensive care units. COVID-19 patients make up 22% of those in the state's intensive care units, up from 18% last week, OHSU reported.

The overwhelming number of new infections, hospitalizations and deaths are among the estimated 20% of Oregonians who are neither vaccinated nor have been previously exposed to the virus. Graven said that leaves a "substantial pool" of unprotected people who account for over 90% of COVID-19 cases requiring hospitalization and 99% of deaths.

Dr. Peter Graven of OHSU.But the virus is less likely to find large numbers of unvaccinated people to cause a major outbreak. "There are more and more infections occurring and immunity is building up," Graven said. "As that happens, it becomes harder and harder to generate a surge in hospitalizations."

With boosters now available, the possible waning of the lasting power of vaccinations is less of a factor. "I'm not seeing any data that tell me we're going to get a surge driven by breakthrough infections," Graven said.

Oregon Health Authority reported Wednesday, Nov. 10, that 13% of previously vaccinated Oregonians have received booster shots.

One positive side of pandemic precautions has been a second straight year of lower-than expected seasonal flu cases. OHSU reported fewer than 13 flu cases a week are being detected in Oregon. In a typical flu season, more than 100 cases are reported per week. Public health officials have credited the low numbers to the high rate of mask-wearing, social distancing and other safeguards against COVID-19 that also suppress spread of the flu.

There have been 376,372 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 4,730 confirmed deaths in Oregon since the end of February 2020, according to an OHA report.

The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation estimates that Oregon will have 5,688 deaths by March 1. The institute, based at the University of Washington, has been consulted by federal and state health authorities since the beginning of the pandemic.

The Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center reported that as of Thursday, over 251.7 million cases have been reported worldwide, with over 5.07 million deaths.

The center reports over 46.8 million reported cases in the United States and 759,636 deaths.

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